Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

Blogs – Who to Follow?

I have recently been expanding exponentially the number of blogs that I subscribe to and it is all through an interesting “pay it forward” type movement running through some blogs. They are essentially creating a blog post that lists all the blogs they recommend that you follow! This is a great source of new and interesting bloggers to check out, so as a result, I have listed a few of the posts from these bloggers where they recommend other blogs, just to get you started.

Firstly, most of the original blogs that I followed are on my blog roll here on this blog, so feel free to click away on those as a starting point.

Here are links to the blog recommendation posts that I have found thus far:

  1. http://edutechintegration.blogspot.com/2010/05/must-see-monday-pay-it-forward-and-pass.html
  2. http://thenerdyteacher.blogspot.com/2010/05/passing-on-lovetechno.html
  3. http://sharpsav.com/blog/blog-awards.html
  4. http://interactivecontentcorner.com/2010/05/07/follow-friday-these-blogs%E2%80%A6pass-it-on/
  5. http://2sparkley.edublogs.org/2010/05/08/thank-you-follow-friday-award/
  6. http://prettyfreaky.blogspot.com/2010/05/blog-awards-recognizing-fellow-bloggers.html
  7. http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2010/05/what-i-read-first-or-rss.html
  8. http://educationstormfront.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/pass-it-on/
  9. http://ilearntechnology.com/?p=2403
  10. http://carlanderson.blogspot.com/2010/05/pass-it-on.html

These blogs each give another five to ten blogs that they recommend you follow, and while there is a little bit of overlap, overall this will be an excellent start on your journey reading educational and inspirational blog posts from some innovative teachers out there.

Also, clicking back through the links of recommended blogs you may find many more lists and blogs, so follow the trail! And if anyone else spots a blog with this series of links I would love for you to post their link in the comments here.

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May 15, 2010 Posted by | blogging, PLN, Social Networking | , , | Leave a comment

Out of the flow

In a small departure from my usual type of post, I am going to add a personal reflection on a recent difficult period in my life. I began 2009 fired up and with much gusto. New school, new city, new opportunities. I grabbed everything with both hands, had many ideas and did all that came my way. By the end of the year I was stressed beyond belief. Burnt out? Quite possibly. I stopped engaging with the world outside of my job as I hunkered down in an effort to survive. I stopped tweeting, stopped blogging, stopped emailing and even stopped calling my friends. I didn’t really know how to describe what was going on for me and every minute on the phone was another minute that I got further behind in my work so it was just easier to isolate myself. In the January 2010 school holidays I made a concerted effort to recover, spending three weeks resting and building up my resilience again, a week reconnecting with all my friends and a week preparing for the new school year. I was excited, energised and enthusiastic about teaching and learning in 2010.

The first week of school was awesome. I felt like my old self again and was really looking forward to the term. That weekend I fell down, put my arms out to break my fall, and broke my elbow. My left arm went into a cast from the knuckles of my fingers to just under my armpit and my right hand and wrist were bandaged up to immobilise them completely. The right hand and wrist were immobilsed for three weeks and it took five or so weeks after that for all the pain to leave that hand, the left arm was in the cast for the rest of the term (10 weeks). The cast came off in the holidays and here and now, five weeks after the cast came off, I can finally type with two hands again. I have physio twice a week, can almost straighten my elbow and can now turn my hand over palm up with only a little pain.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I would like to talk about the impact of it. I did not realise how much I relied on being a two-handed individual to do my life. Never mind all the practical aspects, which were tediously difficult, there were others just as frustrating. Only being able to type with one hand was crippling in every sense of the word. I could only really use a mouse with any degree of proficiency and had to even ask someone to open the lid of my laptop for me as I was not able to open it one-handed. My iPhone came into its own during this time. I typed with one hand but found it so time-consuming that I once again stopped really communicating via text with anyone. Lots of phone calls now but very little interaction with technology. Twitter became frustrating as I would see great things that I wanted to talk about and add to Delicious or email to my staff or blog about and yet it caused me too much physical pain to do so.  As a result, I once again took myself out of the flow.

Now that I am back on deck with two hands that almost work the way they used to, I am discovering that not only does the pace of technology move with unrelenting speed but so too does the Twitter stream.  I am out of touch, on the edge of the flow instead of within it, and I find that my PLN are now talking to other people who don’t even know who I am, nor that I used to be in the flow.

I am uncharacteristically hesitant to jump in, self-conscious about tweeting and feeling that perhaps I no longer have anything relevant to blog about. From this, however, I have GOOD NEWS.

It has reminded me of how it feels to be a newbie ( a noob!), how all those teachers that I am encouraging to join Twitter and to blog, etc must feel as they venture forth into the unknown. It has reminded me of why I started my blog in the first place. It was so that all those teachers new to technology integration had a place to go to find out the basic, starting information.

My experience has led me to a greater sense of purpose in my blogging, a greater understanding of those who deal with physical handicap, hardship and inconveniences on a daily basis, and a better balance in my work and home life. I have learned to take the time to nurture my health, both mental and physical. I have learned that it is ok to say “no”, to sometimes miss out on things and to be out of the flow occasionally.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , , | 1 Comment

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)

As part of the Staff Development Day today, kicking off Term 3, I presented a session on Web 2.0 and what that means for education.  The session started by exploring what Web 2.0 is and, in conjunction, what Education 2.0 might be as a theory. After some philosophical discussions about 21st century learners and what that means for us as teachers, we launched into some practical aspects talking about blogs, wikis, edmodo, nings, google docs and delicious. We finished with the idea that a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is no longer just important – it is now becoming imperative.

A PLN is a network of people that you can learn from, share with and together do all those great ‘c’ words: create, collaborate, communicate, contribute. It can be a bit daunting to know where to start to create a PLN for yourself, so I thought I would do a quick post on getting started with a PLN for you.

1. Twitter – much as some people shudder at the very idea of Twitter, it has provided me with valuable resources, web links and information that has led to more personal professional development in six months than I had ever imagined possible. If you want to get started with twitter, go to http://www.twitter.com and then sign up and create an account. Once you have an account do a search for me: melissagiddins and follow me! Darcy Moore has a great page on his blog recommending Australian educators to follow on Twitter: http://darcymoore.net/2009/05/02/australian-educators-to-follow-on-twitter/ and the comments to that post also have further suggestions.

2. Read blogs, and post comments in response. There are a large number of Australian and international educators out there with blogs that can radically increase the amount of information at your fingertips. Two to start you off: Darcy Moore: http://darcymoore.wordpress.com and Kelli McGraw: http://kellimcgraw.wordpress.com

3. Join, or start, a ning. A ning is a social networking site that allows you to form a community. The site offers you the ability to have discussion forums, blogs, upload photos, videos, create profiles and invite others to join the community. Go to http://www.ning.com to get started.  I have created a ning for English teachers across NSW to discuss the utilisation of laptops in classrooms: http://englishwithlaptops.ning.com and you are more than welcome to join the discussion – email me (use the DET address, just search for Melissa Giddins) to request an invitation – it is an ‘invitation only’ site, so you will need an invitation to join us.

4. Join a listserv. A listserv, put simply, is an automatic mailing list server, that broadcasts a message out to all email addresses on the list at once. I am currently part of the Hunter Region listserv, though I am not in the Hunter Region, and am enjoying the professional dialogue amongst the teachers. If you would like to join us, go to: http://eduleader.org/mailman/listinfo/grapevine_eduleader.org. The list is run by Roger Pryor, the School Education Director for the Hunter Region.

5. Email – ask and share! Communication via email and sms allows people to read and respond at their leisure. Searching the DET emails to get in contact with others is also acceptable. Skype, MSN, Facebook, Video conferencing… the list is large and its easy to begin.

The important  message here is not what medium you use, but that you begin the process of creating your own network of people that will inspire you, motivate you and provide you with valuable resources and learning.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | blogging, delicious, Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, PLN, Social Networking | , , , | 5 Comments

Edmodo

Frustrated by my inability to access social networking sites at school, I tried twittering with my students and the results of that can be read in my earlier post: Twitter in the Classroom: https://mgiddins.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/twitter-in-the-classroom/. Darcy then suggested that I try Edmodo so during the holidays I went to : http://www.edmodo.com and set up an account. I managed to communicate with a few students through twitter in the holidays and they went and signed up for me so we could start trialling and testing it. 

A few things that I have discovered so far about Edmodo:

1. It is REALLY easy to use and you can learn the basics in about 5 minutes.

2. It feels like a cross between Twitter and Facebook, in a protected environment, allowed through the DET portal (and the few students that have signed up are enjoying using it so far).

3. It is not like a blog or a wiki – it is a COMMUNICATION tool – primarily facilitating easy communication with a group of students.

After a few days of interacting on edmodo with the few students that have signed up so far, I could already see great potential for its use with students. On this basis, I introduced it to about 18 other members of staff today.  They had great fun signing up and playing with it – and also managed to work out how to use it very quickly – which is very good news about how easy it really is to use and learn. Many great ideas were starting to come out about ways to use edmodo but rather than tell you about them myself, I will allow those who were there to make comments to this post, and tell you themselves what their ideas are, and their successes and failures.

As for me, on Thursday morning the rest of my classes will be receiving their edmodo passwords and signing up. We will use it and I promise to report back and let you know how it goes – the reality of how it goes: good, bad or ugly.

If you are interested in edmodo, here is some basic information for you:

  • go to http://www.edmodo.com
  • you will see a sentence that says: ‘Sign up now. I am a teacher, or a student.’ Click on ‘teacher’.
  • a sign-up screen will appear – so sign up! NB: the email address that you put in is where you will receive your notifications about updates on the edmodo site that your students have made.
  • Once you have logged in with your new information, you can go to Settings and customise your profile.
  • On the main screen underneath your avatar (or photo if you choose to upload one), there is a section called ‘groups’ if you click on ‘Create’ this is where you create a class group.  So for example, I created a group called 11ExtEng for my Year 11 Extension English class. As soon as you create a group, the password for that group is posted onto your edmodo page by the edmodo support team. All you then have to do is give students the name of the group and the password.  Students go to http://www.edmodo.com and click on ‘student’ which allows them to sign up specifically to your class group, using the group name and password you have given them.
  • You can create many groups on your edmodo account (don’t know the limits of how many yet).
  • You have the option of adding notes, events, assignments, links and files in your communication with students.

This is the very basic information that will get you started with edmodo. On the edmodo website, if you click on the link ‘Docs’ that will give you access to blogs with instructional information.

I would love to hear about your own experiments and experiences with edmodo!

April 28, 2009 Posted by | edmodo, Social Networking | , | 6 Comments

Engaging with Social Networking

I read an interesting blog post today: Why You Have to Engage In Social Media, Even If You Don’t Want To: http://blog.asmartbear.com/blog/why-you-have-to-engage-in-social-media-even-if-you-dont-want.html.

This article is from a corporate/business world perspective however, it is still quite relevant to teachers, particularly to assist in understanding the role of social media/networking in the world.

As part of a presentation at school today I mentioned social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and there was quite a bit of negative reaction to Twitter, whereas Facebook was seen to be a more ‘acceptable’ form of social networking.  In my experience (so far) Twitter has proven to be far more valuable as a professional resource. Facebook has allowed me to connect with people from my past and present, but it is very much about me and my life and harder to see it’s usefulness as a professional tool.  Twitter, on the otherhand, daily delivers new professional information to me quickly and easily. In fact, the link at the beginning of this post came from a tweet I received when I got home from work today. I receive information pertaining to my professional development, the latest news about education and little tidbits of information like the fact that Darcy is spending tomorrow looking at the DET beta blogging platform – prior to that tweet, I didn’t know that the DET was finally starting to think about providing us with a blogging platform – and I am very excited about that opportunity! I feel very ‘cutting edge’, thanks to Twitter. However, I would like to add that it is the people that you choose to follow that makes the experience either valuable or trivial.  I choose to get a dose of both in the tweets I receive, and I am enjoying the interaction with people I may not otherwise have access to or speak with in the ‘real’ world.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking | , , , | 2 Comments

What is Twitter?

One thing that I have noticed about other people’s blogs, is that sometimes people can assume that you know about the technologies they are talking about. One thing that I want to do on my blog is make it a resource for those who are just starting out when it comes to integrating technology into their classroom teaching, working world and home life. As such, I will try to create ‘instruction’ posts fairly often, to give readers information at a basic level for those who need it!

I have created instructional posts for Delicious and wikis, so now it is time for one on Twitter, particularly owing to the number of posts on my blog that are talking about Twitter. So here is a fantastic little video from Common Craft that explains Twitter in plain English.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | | Leave a comment

Facebook

Ok, I confess. I had avoided facebook. I worried about students saying nasty things about me or making inappropriate comments, I thought that it was a waste of time, etc etc etc. Yesterday, I decided that enough was enough and I needed to get a facebook account. For two reasons:

1. My sister is currently travelling and she put her pics on facebook and I couldn’t see them without having an account!

2. Everyone else seemed to have one, without any of the dramas I was worrying about, and I was feeling decidedly left out.

So yesterday, I bit the bullet (where does that saying come from?), and signed up on Facebook. I was very surprised to find that a heck of a lot of people I know are already on there, regardless of age. Not quite 24 hours later I have 26 friends with, I’m sure, many more to come. I have found people I went to high school with (20 years ago), work colleagues past and present, friends I’d lost touch with, current friends and relatives, and have had no end of fun looking at people’s profiles and being amazed at this nifty tool that allowed me to reconnect with some long lost friends.

It sucked up a huge amount of time getting it set up and reading through everyone’s stuff, etc, not to mention chatting online with a few people, but now that it is up and running it seems like it will potter along without needing lots of maintenance time – though I understand that there are those out there who are quite addicted and spend lots of time on it!

As always, I subscribe to my theory of using it in order to be able to imagine more from it, so it will be interesting now to see what I can come up with for ways to use facebook in the classroom, particularly when it is not allowed through the DET portal.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking | | 5 Comments

Twitter Instructions

For all of you out there who have now decided that you want to check out Twitter, I have found two great resources for you. The first one is a handbook on how to use Twitter that was put together by a group of teachers in WA:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/14062777/Twitter-Handbook-for-Teachers

And the second is a great post on how to Retweet:

http://mashable.com/2009/04/16/retweet-guide/

Two great resources for the brave who decide to come twittering with me! Once you have a twitter account just click on Find People and type in: melissagiddins and then click on ‘follow’ and I will follow you right back.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | | Leave a comment

TED talks Twitter

This is a great video that I found on Kelli McGraw’s Blog, with the co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, explaining  a little of what Twitter is all about.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | Leave a comment

Twitter in the Classroom

In the last two weeks of Term 1, I decided to experiment with twittering with students. The dangers inherent in this made it all a bit daunting, but considering how very public twitter is, I decided that it would make me very accountable and in some ways perhaps be ‘safer’ as I had many witnesses to every communication.

The idea behind the experiment was that it would help students to learn to be succinct – capturing an idea or thought in 140 characters or less.  With the move towards reducing the amount of words students write in HSC exams, students need to learn how to dispense with waffle and to encapsulate an idea in a succinct manner. Students also struggle to put together a thesis statement under exam conditions – given only a few minutes with an unseen question, it is very tempting to skip the planning process altogether and just start writing their essay.  Students sometimes struggle with creating a thesis under these conditions with only a few minutes to plan, and every minute that they take in the planning process, takes away time for them to write their essay. The art of being succinct is becoming ever more important for our senior students. Most of them have Facebook accounts and complete status updates on their facebook pages so I was thinking about twitter as a way to combine their current social networking with learning a new and useful ability for school. What better way than learning to express themselves in 140 characters or less on twitter?

The biggest issue: the DET portal does not allow Twitter (it is a blocked site) and therefore all of this had to be done at home for both the students and myself. This meant having school infringe on my homelife in a big way, and raised questions of equity in that not all students may have access to the necessary computing and internet requirements at home.

Now for the current results of this little experiment.

Bottom line: It didn’t work the way I thought it would.

I didn’t take into consideration the fact that I can’t ‘group’ my posts so they only go to my students. Thus, every post I tried to send to them went out to all my followers on twitter. This made me ridiculously self-conscious about what I said to the students, and paranoid about irritating such fabulous twitterers as Darcy and Lyndon who deigned to follow my tweets.

Thankfully, Darcy was patient, understanding, and as always, provided me with a possible solution: edmodo (www.edmodo.com). Next project for the holidays now is setting up an edmodo account ready to start with my students next term, where the experiment will continue, just on a different platform.

As for the actual twittering…

I suggested that my Year 11 Extension English class, currently studying ‘Dracula’ and its appropriations in popular culture, use twitter to consolidate their ideas about the text prior to their exams in Week 11 of Term 1. Of the 10 students in that class, 9 students joined twitter and began to ‘follow’ me and use twitter.  They struggled to know what to say without having any kind of stimulus, so I tweeted questions at them – which of course then went out to everyone that follows me, not just them.  I tried prefacing my tweets with ‘Year 11,’ so that it was like addressing a letter just to them, in the hope that the others following me would understand that this was a tweet that was not for all. The students began responding to the stimulus questions but it was a bit shallow and not having the effect that I was looking for. Then, students began using it as a forum to ask questions about the upcoming exams. I had to be extremely careful then about making sure that they did not have information that the rest of the class did not have  – equity, fairness, validity – all these had to be taken into consideration. The students started telling their friends about twitter and soon there were a number of Year 11 students on twitter that were not in my class – and then some of them started asking me questions about the exams as well. So now I am talking to students that I do not have a relationship established with in the classroom, and that barely know me due to me starting at the school in Term 1. The dangers here now were palpable. It would be far too easy for my words to be misconstrued and they also started asking questions about the exams.

The first thing I want to say is that I survived, and continue to survive, the experience. My worst fears were not realised and these incredibly intelligent, well-behaved and considerate students used twitter appropriately and with understanding when I couldn’t give more information. The very public nature of twitter helped, as they could read what I had said to others and that assisted everyone to have more information and to understand the limits of what I could say.  The Year 11 Extension English students made a real effort to engage with the process, and I am now going to use edmodo with this class to continue this experiment further, as they are obviously keen to use technology, social networking applications and willing to interact at home as well as at school. I need however, to make sure that the 10th student will also engage with edmodo – it will be all or nothing at all. Also, must check that edmodo works through the DET portal so we can work on it at school and eliminate some of the equity issues.

Being a particularly insane person, I also gave the offer to my Year 12 Advanced English class to twitter about ‘Citizen Kane’, prior to their assessment task in Week 11. With the task being an unseen in-class task, it was similar to the experience that Year 11 were undergoing in preparing for their exams, so my reasoning was that they may need to also learn the art of being succinct in exam conditions. This was less successful in terms of take-up. Of the 19 students in my class, only 10 took up the offer to follow me on twitter. They did not tweet about Citizen Kane at all, just used the opportunity to ask questions about the assessment task, which of course brought up all those questions about equity and validity again.

Out of the 22 students at school that are now following me on Twitter, only Year 11 really used it for what I had originally intended. Now it simply seems to provide access to me so that they can ask questions about texts and tasks. What do the students think? Some think it’s lame, some think it’s fun, and some have signed up and never really used it. But it’s early days yet, so we will see where it goes from here.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking, twitter | , | 3 Comments